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Council approves down-zoning for Burnet apartments on first read

Friday, April 6, 2012 by Josh Rosenblatt

City Council approved on first reading Thursday the rezoning of a property on far north Burnet Road that will turn what is essentially a large parking lot and a single discount clothing store into the first multifamily residential complex the area has seen in a decade. The property owners, Alliance Realty Partners, are actually requesting a rather dramatic down-zoning from Commercial Shopping Center to Multi-Family 6, complete with a maximum of 300 units and a decrease in the number of daily car trips from 3,600 to 2,000.

According to the owner’s attorney, Michael Whellan of Graves, Dougherty, the site is currently home to a Ross Dress for Less retail store, an abandoned Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, and lots of parking spaces and graffiti. As such, he told Council, the proposed rezoning has received the support of two nearby condominium structures, Summit and Ashdale Gardens.

What Whellan didn’t think the property owner had until yesterday was the support of the North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Association. Whellan said despite his client’s willingness to satisfy the association’s request for a 60-foot height limit, a reduction of impervious cover from 95 to 80 percent, and numerous other adjustments, the association had refused give the rezoning its support. On the day of the Zoning and Planning Commission meeting earlier this year at which the project was set to be discussed, “instead of 120 voting for the agreement, 25 people (from the association) gathered and decided to limit us to MF-3,” said Whellan.

“We’re not going to back off our agreement,” he continued. “Who has backed off from their agreement is the North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Association. … I’ve heard this from so many people. We hear it and we feel it: The only thing Austinites dislike more than suburban sprawl is urban density. And today’s a day we can embrace it and really do something good.”

Much to everyone’s surprise, however, North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Association President Ken Webb announced that his group would be withdrawing their objection to the rezoning. He said the group had been satisfied that Alliance would stand by its signed agreement with the association to honor various provisions and restrictions on the property. The agreement is not a conditional overlay or a private restrictive covenant, said Whellan, but simply an agreement between the two parties delineating certain development restrictions and guidelines.

“We have something for everybody,” Whellan told the Council. That includes 3,000 square feet of open space; a pedestrian/bike path and lane between the property’s residential and commercial units; wide sidewalks, streetlamps, and benches; and front porch stoops to encourage neighborly communication.

Yes, said Council Member Kathie Tovo, but “is there an affordability provision?”

Whellan responded that the nature of the neighborhood and the scarcity of new residential development will act as a sort of built-in affordability provision.

“This is the first multifamily in the area for a decade, and I think that helps in terms of affordability,” said Whellan.

That didn’t seem to sit too well with Council Member Laura Morrison, who expressed concern that, unlike a property zoned Vertical Mixed-Use, the MF-6 guideline includes no affordability requirement. 

“I’m not of the same mind that all we need is more supply of apartments and that’s going to handle our affordability problem,” Morrison said. “On the other hand, I understand that there are other benefits being brought forward to even all of that out.”

Morrison also expressed concern that the neighborhood association’s requests might not be met because they were being expressed only in an informal agreement, rather than in a private restrictive covenant or conditional overlay.

Still, as the item was only being considered on first reading, Morrison went along with all her colleagues and voted to approve.

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